Hardcore: Low Max

Cathe Friedrich
Year Released: 2005

Categories: Step Aerobics

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One of my go-to cardios when I want fun step. Cathe's cueing is not great in this one - on one of the turn moves, she precedes it with a comment along the lines of "watch, try it a few times and one day it will all come together!" before launching into the move (reverse mambo?). Um. But I have three left feet when it comes to step and I was able to master this workout after a few pause-rewinds. The blasts are leg conditioning exercises so there's a decent lower-body toning/endurance component to this workout along with the cardio. Music is upbeat and I think they did a good job matching the music with each of the seven step-and-blast segments. The whole workout clocks in just over an hour; I use the half premixes (either segments 1-4 or 4-7 with blasts, plus warmup and cooldown/stretch) when I want a 45-minute cardio session. Cathe and crew use an 8" step, though my knees are happier with a 6" step and extra effort to make the moves energetic and the blasts tough. One step segment has a fast pivot-turn which I ignore to protect my knees and my workout carpet.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe is upbeat and professional. Cedie whoops a little in this one but her whoops seem to come just at the time I need a little more boost or want to smile, so I don't mind them.



I don't have too much to add to the previous reviews. I will add my opinion though and say that I find this workout to be a lot of fun. I don't do it more than 2 or 3 times a year, however, so it always ends up feeling a little fresh to me.

I like the circuit concept. I make the workout a bit more intense, by holding a small 5# medicine ball during most of the blasts. That helps bring my heart rate up and works my legs and core a little more.

I enjoy the choreography in this one. It flows really well. Cathe isn't the best at teaching choreography, so it can be confusing for someone who isn't used to her workouts. However, if you like her style, it can be worth it to continue.

I find the music in this one to be a lot of fun. I prefer vocals, especially when I'm doing step and this has recognizable covers of songs. I do wish it was louder though.

This is one of those workouts that is sometimes hard to fit in, because of the way my legs get sore so easily, but I probably will keep it forever, because it is fun, has the right kind of choreography when I want a moderate workout and I like the music.

Lisa C


About me: I consider myself a “barely-advanced” exerciser. For instance, I can make it through workouts like Cathe’s HIITs or Cardio Core Circuit, but I pretty much feel like I’m going to keel over when I do them. I have been exercising with home videos for about 7 or 8 years, but only started doing advanced workouts about 2 years ago. I prefer complex step choreography because it keeps my mind occupied (Seasun Zieger and Amy Bento are favorites), but will do a step workout where the choreography is only moderately complex as long as it is athletic enough to be a reasonable cardio challenge. Cathe Friedrich is my favorite instructor, but I am catholic in my tastes as long as the instructor has good form, reasonable cueing, and uses decent music. Oh – and because I am a bad, bad person, I almost always skip the cool-down/stretch at the end of a workout.

Who would probably not like this workout?
1) Anyone who gets frustrated by moderately complex choreography
2) Anyone who needs crystal-clear cueing. Cathe’s cueing isn’t terrible, but she’s definitely guilty of occasionally giving the cue right as she is beginning the move.
3) Anyone who dislikes workouts that don’t fall cleanly into a given category (i.e. you want something that is pure cardio, or pure lower-body toning, but not a netherworld combination of the two)
4) Anyone who requires absolute faithfulness to the “low impact” billing – the workout has a few moves, such as pendulums on the step, which do require tiny hops

Music: BK Howe Productions. I recognized a cover of Madonna’s “Holiday;” a song that sounded like it was using the hook from M.A.R.S.’ “Pump Up the Volume;” and an upbeat version of the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud.”

Where this workout fits in my exercise world: This is actually the only workout I’ve tried that I would put in the same category as the original Tonique. That may sound odd, given that it is a step-based workout, but here are my reasons:

1) They are both low-ish impact (Tonique has jogging and jumping jacks, and Low Max has pendulums and a few other dubious moves, but compared to most of my cardio workouts, they are definitely much easier on the joints)
2) Both are very good calorie burners. I use a Polar HRM for all of my workouts and, while I realize that the “calories burned” figure is really just a rough guideline, it is a useful tool for comparing how my own body responds to different workouts. With Tonique Premier, my calorie burn has ranged from 8.2 to 9.5 cal/min, with an overall average of 8.6.* For Low Max, my calorie burn has ranged from 6.6 to 8.7 cal/min, with an overall average of 7.5. However, because Low Max is longer, the total number of calories I burn with these two workouts is pretty similar. I should note that I always use an 8” step for Low Max (I’m a little over 5’ 5”) – with a 6” step, I would probably have trouble getting my heart rate above 130 bpm.
3) Both workouts, when done right, are solid lower body workouts. The key with Low Max is to use an 8” step and to make a conscious effort to keep your weight back on your heels during the “toning” moves.

* I typically skip the mat work in Tonique, and instead do the drills (2 times), the lunges, and the squats. Total workout time = about 52 minutes.

So, for me, this is a great workout to do on days when I want a solid cardio workout and calorie burn, don’t want a lot of impact, and don’t want to use my arms much (as when they are sore from an upper-body workout the day before). Oh – and because the moves are varied, Low Max does not have the “dread” factor that Tonique eventually developed for me.

A final note about how I use this workout: Because I have trouble getting my heart rate up at the beginning of a workout (unless I am doing something like HIIT), I always skip the warm-up for Low Max and start right in at Combo #1. Then, at the end of the workout, I do the warm-up instead of the official cool-down/stretch. I find this gets my heart rate up in a reasonable amount of time. The workout clocks in at about 62 minutes when done this way.



I’m reviewing this video after doing the whole thing twice.

I’m with the crowd that ended up liking the idea more than the actual workout itself. I find myself agreeing with many of the points mentioned already, especially Kickdancer’s, although since I had read these before picking it up I knew what to expect.

I actually don’t dislike this workout. I’m working my way up to more complex choreography on the step, and this fit the bill for the stage where I’m currently at in that regards – that is, making the transition between more straightforward moderately complex workouts and trickier moderately complex workouts (if that makes sense).
It took me two times through to get all of the choreography down, but when I did I found similar moves in other videos (Katina Hunter used an almost identical mambo off the step with back to the TV in her new Vertical Step Party 2) much easier to pick up.
I consider myself an int./adv. in cardio level, although maybe more of an int.+ when it comes to step, and I found this a suitable challenge for me on a 6” step. I could definitely have grown with this workout by putting more effort into the drills to make them more anaerobic and, if I had an extra set of risers, using those.
When I was working on lower body endurance for a long distance hike this was a decent choice to fit that bill.

That said, the drills have enough of a dread factor for me that, when combined with the fact that I have other step workouts of similar complexity in choreography that I enjoy a little more for whatever reason (e.g. Petra Kolber’s offerings), means I’ve passed this one on in one of those shelf space clearing sprees. (So, yeah, if I didn’t already have so many workouts, especially step workouts, that I have a hard time working in I might have kept it.)

I had the Fit TV version (which was sold at Discovery stores until they went kaput), and apart from a different cover, different menu font and colors, and different intro the workout is exactly the same as the official Cathe.com production; it even had the same menu options, including all of the same premixes.

Instructor Comments:



I decided to do this workout because I sprained my ankle a week ago doing Drillmax and couldn't do anything too strenuous. I am an advanced exerciser and wanted something that would deliver with no impact. This workout was somewhere between easy and hard. Notice, I didn't say easy and very hard. I found it to be long, as it has 7 intervals and the choreography is quite interesting and a bit complex and because I had to stop and rewind a few times (this was my first time doing it after watching it twice), my heart rate stayed at the low end and below. I'm pretty sure that if I would've gone straight through the workout with no stopping, I would've stayed low to mid range which is fine for me. She had some very cool moves in this one - stomps; a kickboxing interval, high kicks around the world and the intervals were all lower body (lots of lunges, squats, kicks, etc.) For intensity, I'd give this a 5-6; for fun I'd give it a 6-7 and for complexity of chroeography I'd give it a 7. The workout rates a B in my book and it's a keeper for days where I don't want to kill myself ala drill max, bodymax 2, bootcamp.

Hope that helps!

Instructor Comments:
There's nothing different about Cathe in this workout and I find that in most of her workouts. Her personality is pretty consistent.

Denise Berger


I have heard people having problems with the sound on this video. I personally never had these problems. I love this workout! It's low Impact, and Higher intensity at it's best.
The music is good as well.
I believe that the workout has already been broken down so I won't go into details about that.
Cathe introduces some new moves, and mixes in some old moves in different ways than they have been used before. And she manages to get your heartrate up without any high impact moves. That's the part I think is the most amazing.
It's fun, challenging and your legs will be sore the next day. I highly recommend this workout for the advanced exerciser that is looking for lower impact on their joints.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe looks fantastic in this workout and is very professional as always. She leads the class well.



I really liked the idea of this video, but it ended up being the only Cathe cardio workout I’ve ever gotten rid of. The low impact seemed too forced to me in some places, and the workout made my knees ache. This is the first workout that’s ever made my knees ache in about 13 years of doing aerobics.

I like the music in this video, but it’s not as loud as the music in other Cathe workouts like the Body Blast series. The music was not so low that it was a problem for me, though.

Cathe is one of my favorite instructors, and she is her usual cheerful and encouraging self in this video. However, I will stick to doing her higher impact workouts, and just modify them to lower impact when it feels good to me.

Instructor Comments:



On cardio work, I am an intermediate to advanced exerciser who enjoys with complex choreography at some level. After trying many different cardio workouts with varying complexity, I have found that I enjoy many of the instructors that would be classified in the dancier category of aerobics. I hadn’t ever tried Cathe Friedrich’s cardio, other than a couple of her kickboxing workouts. When this workout was announced and touted as a low-impact cardio workout that would give lovers of low-impact cardio aficionados a good step workout, I enthusiastically pre-ordered.

And, what a disappointment this workout was. I tried it several times, more times than I usually give a new workout, but I kept thinking my reaction must be due to not giving it a fair shake. I finally decided that no, it was the workout. I enjoyed the first few combinations. Then, every time, I reached a point in the workout where Cathe was rattling off the names of moves to do next with absolutely no instruction on how to get there where I would throw up my hands in frustration. I slowed down, rewound, and tried it a move at a time. I just could not “get” this workout. It often takes me multiple times for me to “get” the choreography in the workout – multiple times for my feet to accomplish what my brain understands the instructor is saying. In this case, my brain couldn’t even begin to understand what she was saying in order to tell the feet what to do. The workout was just poorly taught. I guess if I had done other Cathe workouts before this, I might have understood her directions, but starting with this workout was not an option for me.

I had none of the technical problems reported with the Hardcore workouts. The sound was fine. The production values with music and the background exercisers, etc. were fine.

Instructor Comments:
I have trouble separating comments about Cathe in this workout from my comments about how poorly taught this workout is. She led the workout though with her usual professional manner.

Laura S.


Background on me: My favorite cardio workouts are any kickboxing by Powerstrike, Tony Horton’s Plyo X (from P90X), and Cathe Friedrich’s Maximum Intensity Cardio. For step workouts, Gin Miller’s Intense Moves is hard to beat.

What I liked:
• The concept of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in a completely low-impact workout.
• The decent (almost-)steady-state cardio workout that Low Max provided (see below for further explanation).
• The inclusion of some high kicks to increase the intensity (although I would have liked still more, and I don’t think they were incorporated into the choreography well).
• The last (#7) interval and blast. The moves included enough power and speed to challenge the heart, finally.

What I disliked:
The occasional high-impact move incorporated into the choreography (e.g., a quick hop to change weight, a pendulum). The whole routine could have and should have been entirely low-impact, given the purpose and name of the workout. For me, the high-impact moves were unnecessary and unwanted.
• The fact that this workout actually was not high-intensity interval training. My heart rate dropped rather than elevated during almost all of the “blasts”.
The heavy reliance on “staying low to the ground” with “sculpt 7’s” and other moves that required sustaining a squat position. I wanted a cardio workout, not half of a leg workout. Even then, Low Max would be a very unbalanced leg workout for me, since it overworks the quads in comparison to the other leg muscles that I also like to exercise, and I don’t find the kind of isometric holds utilized here very effective for cardiovascular exercise or for my muscle-building goals.
The many turns and pivots included in the choreography. I actually think these moves can be worse for the joints than carefully choreographed and executed jumps (as in plyometrics). Turns don’t increase the intensity of a workout as much as kicking high or traveling across space, yet they add greater risk for the knees. I modified out almost all of the turns and pivots, except in one sequence (the third interval, right after the infamous “step-sweep” move) where I discovered that the pivot was necessary for facing the right direction on the step, and except for “around the world” sequences, where the turns aren’t as fast. However, I think even those turns come at a cost: in one sequence of moves, Cathe asks us to step up and perform a high kick in an “around-the-world” pattern on and off the step, and I found that it was awkward to step up on the 8” height and kick powerfully and high, while also executing the turns. I kept falling slightly behind the beat whenever I put my full effort into the kicks.
The “steppy” choreography. For me, ponies & triple-steps add more to the bounciness of a workout than its intensity. If I’m going to add to the impact of a workout (even the little bounces can contribute to some tingling in the toes), I want it to be worthwhile impact that elevates my heartrate. And if I’m going to have to pick up and move my feet faster (yes, I’m something of a sleepy exerciser), I want to have ample preparation to travel farther on the floor or execute bigger movements, again so that I get more out of them than the feeling of clumsiness.
The awkward weight shifts and direction changes in the choreography. Although I was able to follow the choreography fairly well (according to my own lenient standards!) the first time around, I felt like I was stumbling clumsily from one move to the next. Part of this may have come from Cathe’s cueing, which was adequate but just a hair too late for me to prepare for the next move in advance of executing it. I’d end up throwing my leg onto the step just to keep on the beat, without being able to focus on using good form and doing the moves with my full effort. But even after a few more tries, I realized that it was also because of some sequences where Cathe asks us to step back up on the same leg that we just used to step down, instead of the other leg (which would have been much more natural), or where she has us change direction unexpectedly. In this sense, the choreography did not flow well.
The inconsistencies between the moves when Cathe first introduces them and when she puts them together in the finished routine. Another reason why the choreography felt awkward was that sometimes Cathe would teach the moves slightly differently from how she actually incorporated them into the routine. I think this is the main reason why that “step-sweep” move is confusing, not because the move itself is difficult. Cathe teaches the move and repeatedly has us practice it coming from behind the step, but in the routine, she throws it in (without warning) with an approach from the front of the step. For someone as choreography-challenged as I am, that little shift in perspective is enough to trip me up.

In all, I was disappointed in Low Max, in that I felt it did not deliver what it promised. While I did get a decent workout (of high-intermediate/low-advanced intensity) from it, it wasn’t the kind of workout that I wanted. I believe that it is possible to create a true low-impact, HIIT workout without the design flaws noted above, and I hope that Cathe or others in the industry will try for this again in the future.

Instructor Comments:



For me, this workout was just what the doctor ordered. A solid, fun low-impact step workout that still challenges you in typical Cathe fashion. I have knees that are sensitive some days, and other workouts like Step Works and Imax are just not feasible when they act up. So the dilemma has always been how I could challenge myself fitness-wise and avoid injury. Other low- impact offerings are really for beginners or low-intermediate, and I never feel like I'm working at my level. Low Max is different, and not at all a wimpy "filler" interlude.

After the warm-up and stretch, the workout alternates step combos with lower body "blasts", which are high intensity toning intervals. Cathe is careful to plan the blasts in a way that your muscles get fully worked without making the routine montone or overdoing yourself to the point where it's just pain. However, your tush and quads will burn, don't worry.

I really find myself enjoying the step intervals too. Not since PowerMax have I had such a good time with the choreography. Dancy enough to be fun, but not *overly* fancy with the footwork. It took me a couple of workouts to get all the moves down, but once you learn it, it flows naturally. For some reason the sequence with the 1 hamstring/2 "butt kick" repeater cracks me up; I feel like a Russian cossack when I do them.

I hope Cathe does another low-impact workout, and soon. I'm wearing this one out.

Instructor Comments:
Awesome cueing, motivating, friendly

Rachel B.


I previewed Low Max last night and did it this morning. For me, some of the moves are new i.e. grapevine off the step. Overall, I found the workout to be moderately easy to follow. There were some areas that I had to take a moment to look at before I got it right.
This is all low impact stepping. Cathe and crew have their steps at 8 inches. I kept mine at 6 because it was a new workout for me. The workout is a compiled of these low impact stepping segments followed by intense blasts that are designed for optimum lower body toning/sculpting (i.e. lunges off the step with knee ups, skaters, and lots of adductor and abductor work). There are 7 segments in total that make up the major body of the workout.

I know that some have sound issues. I am so thankful that I have a newer system with surround sound. When I listened just through my TV it was not bad really but with the surround it was great!

I really enjoyed the workout and for me, its a keeper!

Instructor Comments:

Lori M


This is a great workout. The music isn't loud enough in relation to the vocals which I find very aggravating in the hardcores.

But the music selections were fun (Relax, by frankie goes to hollywood. I used to dance at fraternity parties to that song back in the 80s) and the workout was fun.

I loved the low impact blasts, especially the last one (kickboxing flavor).

I didn't wear an HRM, but I'm sure I burned at least 450.

I sold this one and reacquired it. I'm glad I did, as it is a good workout.

Instructor Comments: